History – First generation children

The Penman and Ross bullock team.

This is a story of a child born in Scotland in 1853. Christened Robert Ross, by Gaelic speaking parents, he arrived in New Zealand as a six-year-old in 1859. On the journey from Britain, the lad was accompanied by his father, mother and three sisters. But after arrival in Auckland, it wasn’t long before four more boys were added to the family. They eventually moved to Kaiwaka, where their father built a house. The young lad played with the local Maori children and quickly learned their language.

By now he was called Bob and was taught lessons at home by his mother and older sisters, and an occasional teacher who would pass through the district and hold lessons in private homes. He learned how to do simple sums and how to read and write with other children, who ranged in age from five years old to mid-teens.

By the age of 12, he was helping his father to cultivate and break in the land, as well as working with cattle and horses and doing the work of a man, which was not unusual for youth at that time. One day, his father said to him that he had to walk north over the bush-clad hills to the settlement at Waipu and purchase a bullock from one of the Nova Scotian families up there. His father pinned the money into the boy’s jacket and sent him on his way. After several hours, the lad met up with some men at Waipu and asked if they would sell him a bullock. In English, he told them the price that his father was prepared to pay for one. They chatted amongst themselves in Gaelic then told him in English that his price offered was too low. The boy responded in Gaelic and they got such a surprise at his knowledge that they gave him the animal at his price.

From that time onward, families from both settlements became friends and the lad continued his life, becoming a man of very large stature. A well-known cattle drover, and judge at shows of both cattle and horses, he gained a reputation as a ‘gentle giant’. He owned his own bullock team and contrary to the usual bad language used by team owners on their animals, Bob earned the nickname ‘bother-the-thing’ due to his never being heard to ‘cuss’ or use bad language on his charges, or anyone else, for that matter.

There is a road named in his honour around several thousand acres of land he bought from Maori, which became the Topuni pine forest. He is buried near his wife, mother and father at Hakaru cemetery.

History - Mangawhai Museum